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A Naturalist's Notebook

article spread
by John Schmitt
Illustrations by John Schmitt

7 May 1996
Little Lake Park
Santa Fe Springs, California

I paused briefly from my walk to watch a pair of Cassin’s Kingbirds, hoping that I might have a chance to watch them defend their nest territory against intruders. I didn’t have long to wait before I saw them make the first of seven or eight exciting pursuits after some American Crows that dared to fly too close to the kingbirds’ nest.

Kingbirds are strong, fast flyers. They easily overtook the fleeing crows and unleashed a rapid succession of darting dives at their heads. In three instances, the kingbirds’ attacks were so close and relentless that the crow being chased steadily lost altitude until it was driven to the ground, where it had to endure further diving and vocal abuse from the much smaller kingbirds.

Twice, a kingbird seized a crow by the nape of its neck in midair, using its beak and feet to ride the crow for two or three seconds before letting go and resuming its fierce pursuit.

The attacking kingbird usually broke off its chase abruptly then flew back to join its mate at their nest site near the top of the athletic field lights, where both birds engaged in a flurry of excited vocalizations and wing shuddering.

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Living Bird Magazine

Summer 2011

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More Artwork

See more of John Schmitt's Naturalist Notebook artwork in these columns: